"Stariel Series" review


Title: Stariel

Author: A.J. Lancaster

Subgenre: Romance, Gaslamp, Fantasy of manners

2021 Bingo squares:

  • Book 1: Book club, Mystery, Self-published, Genre mashup, Chapter titles, {Blank} of {Blank}, Debut
  • Book 2: Self-published, Genre mashup, Chapter titles, {Blank} of {Blank}, Trans or nonbinary character
  • Book 3: Self-published, Genre mashup, Chapter titles, {Blank} of {Blank}, Trans or nonbinary character
  • Book 4: Published in 2021, Cat squasher, Self-published, Genre mashup, Chapter titles, {Blank} of {Blank}, Trans or nonbinary character

Recommend: Yes! They’re quick reads, and unless you absolutely can’t stand romance plots they’re quite fun

Stars: 4/5


“The Lord of Stariel is dead. Long live the Lord of Stariel. Whoever that is,” proclaims the blurb, and The Lord of Stariel begins with a prologue literally titled “An Ominous Prologue.” What follows is a delightful quartet that is not at all as un-serious as one might expect from such a first impression, but still retains a relatively light-hearted atmosphere with an intimate scope. There’s magic, minor battle scenes, and other standard fantasy fare, but the focus is primarily on Hetta dealing with her family, potential lovers, and increasingly complex politics.

Cover of The Lord of Stariel

Gregory’s eyes widened. “Oh! Yes. I forgot. Grandmamma said the flowers for the casket must be grown at Stariel, but Aunt Sybil said it’s more important that they’re lilies, even if we have to order them from Greymark, and Grandmamma said ordering flowers from elsewhere would be bad luck for the lord’s funeral, and Aunt Sybil said that was ridiculous superstition, and Grandmamma said there was nothing wrong with a little spirituality and her bones told her that lilies were bound to appear if they were wanted, and Aunt Sybil said even the most superstitious fool couldn’t conjure lilies outside a hothouse in October, and so I said I would check the greenhouse, but I don’t know a lily from lavender.”

Matters do certainly escalate from lilies, especially in books after the first one, but this is the type of minor calamity you should expect out of at least the first novel.

That’s two unreasonably attractive men in the space of half an hour, she thought distantly. Goodness knows what the next two weeks will bring, if that’s a representative sample of the populace now.

Of course, it’s a fantasy romance, and you should expect romance; I enjoyed the first novel in spite of its romance plot, but the next three in part because of it (though still, I found the parts other than the romance were much more enjoyable). If you can’t stand reading romance in any way, shape or form, you should probably stay away. (In case you’re wondering, there aren’t explicit sex scenes anywhere.)

Cover of The Prince of Secrets

Book 1, The Lord of Stariel, is a mystery plus choose-between-two-lovers story. Hetta Valstar is brought back to the Valstar estate in the socially and technologically conservative north for her father’s funeral, after having run away from home six years prior to become an illusionist in the theater (or theatre, because this series uses Australian English spellings). When she gets home, she encounters childhood crush Lord Angus Penharrow (very handsome) and family butler and point of contact for the past six years Wyn (also very handsome).

In addition to her father’s funeral, Hetta is there for the Choosing ceremony, in which Stariel, the magical estate belonging to the Valstars, chooses who the next heir is going to be. The primary candidates are her older brother Marius, who is the oldest but wasn’t favored by her father, and her cousin Jack, who was favored by her father. But it could theoretically be anyone in her generation.

Hetta’s only here for two weeks before she’ll return to her life of independence in the south. Who will she spend her time with, and how will she deal with her family’s constant disapproval about her scandalous acts? And who will Stariel choose as its next Lord?

There’s an additional third plot that’s significantly more interesting than either of these, but it’s not introduced until a bit later in the novel, and its premise is a relatively large spoiler. But the story does get a lot more interesting than just its initial premise.

The first novel is self-contained, and the series changes tone significantly after its conclusion; it feels much more like a standalone followed by a sequel trilogy than a quartet. So after the next break I’ll talk about the following three books as a unit, with spoilers for The Lord of Stariel.

Cover of The Court of Mortals

After the resolution of book 1, the rest of the series follows the beginning of Hetta’s journey as the Lord of Valstar, her relationship with Wyn, and the interactions between Mortal and Fae, especially the Court of Ten Thousand Spires (Wyn’s family). Wyn and Marius become POV characters (and Jack gets a couple POV chapters later on as well), and instead of managing the feelings of insulted relatives, Hetta has to manage the requirements of faerie and mortal law and their various court politics.

Still, the series retains is its focus on people-talking-to-people rather than people-doing-things. There’s a refreshing lack of conflict due to characters refusing to talk to each other, and when secrets are kept it’s always for an understandable, relevant-to-the-plot reason that was justified in advance of the secret, never out of an empty need for interpersonal conflict to exist.

Marius in particular is given a bigger spotlight as the series progresses. I like his arc a lot, especially in books 3 and 4 - and best of all, he will get his own standalone novel to be published in 2022! So while Hetta & Wyn’s story is completed, we’ll get to go back to Stariel (at least) one more time still.

Cover of The King of Faerie

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River is a MediaWiki developer and admins Leaguepedia. This blog contains her fantasy novel reviews.